For years we have wanted to buy a little farm. The purpose was more than self-sufficiency. We wanted to raise our children where the law of the harvest is a way of life, and provide a place for family gatherings for generations. My great-grandparents bought a “ranch” for that purpose and I wouldn’t know most of my cousins without that place. It’s so much fun! There is no stronger tradition and much of my testimony and yearning for Zion comes from the wholesome recreational activities there with my family.
During these last four years, we have been seriously saving and looking for our farm. We made list upon list of things that we wanted it to have. Sometimes I would wake up and be surprised that we didn’t have it yet because the picture was so detailed in my mind.
During that time our daughter sang “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” in the ward choir. I heard her practice this verse of that hymn:
Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed his precious blood.
I started wondering what “Here I raise mine Ebenezer” means. I found this post at AnotherThink.com that, including the comments, explained it beautifully. It turns out that the story is in 1 Samuel, chapter 7. Israel was following false gods, but the Philistines were threatening. The prophet Samuel called them to repentance, promising deliverance if they gave up the false gods and returned to their covenants. They did repent and defeated the Philistines soundly, regained the conquered land and cities, and lived in peace. Samuel could see what the danger would be now: forgetting. Forgetting that it was God, not their own efforts that won the war. Forgetting that their strength is in their covenants. Forgetting to be grateful for their blessings.
12 Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Eben-ezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.
I can’t say it any better than Charlie did at AnotherThink:
Samuel placed a large stone at the place where this restoration began. He publicly dedicated it as a monument to God’s help, God’s faithfulness, God’s eternal covenant. And as the people got on with their lives, the stone stood there, visible to all who passed that way, a reminder of judgment and repentance, mercy and restoration.
The Ebenezer stone represented a fresh beginning, a reversal of course for God’s people. It also said something important about God: his mercies are everlasting; his covenant is forever.
Ebenezer means “stone of help”. (My guess is that Charles Dickens knew this story and used the symbol intentionally in A Christmas Carol.)
After a little discouragement because of things falling through and rising prices, our farm suddenly appeared. It’s perfect. It’s cheap. The area is just right. Everything. While we were waiting several months for closing, I constantly marveled at the blessing that it was. I wanted everyone to understand and be grateful. I thought about how the prophets always make ceremonies and monuments so people will remember being there on a sacred occasion. They know they are doing historic things. So I thought about raising our own Ebenezer on the farm. We couldn’t haul in a big stone, but we could do something.
In the rafters of the barn, there was a wooden pole, maybe 25 feet long. On Thanksgiving, the kids planted it right next to the driveway. We weren’t sure at the time what else we would do with it, but it was a start. Our ceremony was sitting around it on stumps and talking, then family prayer. I told the story again of Samuel and the Ebenezer. We talked about all the miracles that got us to that point. I talked about the vision of the farm and our family. I never bore my testimony formally, and there was no angel choir. The kids got a little cold so we didn’t take long. But they did run out to the field and get a big flat rock that they had seen earlier and put it at the base of the pole.
Next we decided it could be like a totem pole. We’ll put meaningful things on it. Our son brought a verse from Isaiah on to hang on the wall that day: “. . . joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving, and the voice of melody.” (Isaiah 51:3) Yes, that’s exactly right. Later, a quote I heard in conference kept running through my mind. ”Thou that hast given so much to me, Give one thing more, a grateful heart.” I looked that up and found it is the first lines in a beautiful poem called “Gratefulnesse” by George Herbert. The last verse is:
Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
That is how I felt—continually grateful. And I didn’t want that to change, and I didn’t want the family to forget.
So, some elves have told me that those two quotes are being burned onto wooden plaques in Santa’s workshop to be nailed to the Ebenezer pole.
One day I was marveling at all the “loaves and fishes” experiences that we were having. I thought of somehow putting loaves and fishes on the pole. My daughter offered to make some ceramic sculptures to put on it. We don’t have money left for stuff for Christmas, but this is going to be wonderful!
But how do we pass this on to our grandchildren? It’s important that they feel ownership without feeling entitled. It’s a work in progress, and I’d love suggestions, but this is what we’re planning at the moment. When we visit the grandchildren this Christmas, they can write letters to their future selves and put things in a time capsule by the Ebenezer. We can deposit them in a box formed by laying stones together in some kind of cement and covered by a stone that is thick and rounding in the middle and thinner towards the edge that can be opened if they obtain a lever and with a little exertion raise it up.
They can paint (since we can’t engrave) rocks that we will put around the pole so they each have their own Ebenezer stone. They’ll find it every time they visit and remember the story. In future years, I’ll follow my grandparents’ example and have them work to build things like playground toys and lamb pens so they will be part of permanent things.
And on New Year’s Day, we will gather family and friends together and my husband will dedicate the house and farm.
It seems that we are living on two levels now. We are overwhelmed with working on our old house and business so I can’t spend much time on our new house. We still don’t have electricity to all of it or even a good source of heat. But I often just stand still and wonder at the tender mercies we are being given. To list them would be like counting loaves and fishes. The only thing I fear is that we’ll forget.
But, maybe we’ll have a grandson named Ebenezer.